An Unexpected Therapy

Posted on: April 10, 2013
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By Betty Lane

Almost every morning that I stand in front of a mirror to cleanse and moisturize my face, then apply some kind of make up, I cannot help smiling, as I think, however fleetingly, about my unorthodox start as an independent beauty consultant and what that business decision has meant for me and my family through the past many years, despite the fact that ultimately working towards realizing my potential and achieving my dreams led me in an almost altogether different direction.
Until 1998, I was known for my remarkable ability to bounce back from suffering, big obstacles, and tragedy. I had survived childhood neglect and abuse, having grown up with alcoholic parents, one of them extremely violent, the other passive and depressed. I had triumphed over the school system that labeled me special ed because of my inability to concentrate on academics until my parents divorced and I felt safe. I was able to surrender in a struggle with alcohol abuse. I came to terms with the monkey that jumped on and attached itself to my back, named anxiety.  
However, when I married, had just begun working my way into the American dream, and our second child was born unexpectedly with severe brain damage from lack of oxygen and diagnosed as terminally ill, I went over the edge and feared that this time there would be no round trip ticket back to reality.
Friends disappeared and we almost lost our home, after I chose to leave my job to care for our dying son.
Of our many losses, what hurt most at the time was having to quit my job. I had worked for nearly ten years  with the same chronically ill clients, who had grown to trust me as much as I was fond of them.
However, our son needed me. Although he was blind and mentally impaired, it became obvious that he responded to my voice. So, while my husband dealt with medical equipment and drove us to never ending appointments with social workers, specialists, and therapy, I worked on becoming as proficient as possible at caring for our son, Pence.
Because Pence could not even cry, I had to be pried loose from him the times when I collapsed finally in an exhausted heap.
I existed in a constant state of sleep deprivation, frenzy, and despondence.
My husband continued to work full time. We received some assistance from government programs, the food bank, and gifts from the church. And still we were forced to sell blood plasma for gas money and help with small bills. That worked until we began getting more run down and sick.
While waiting to see one of our son’s doctors, I noticed a sales catalog for a company I had not thought about in years. And that led me to signing up as an independent sales representative.
The extra cash we made every week from my distributing catalogs to neighbors, my husband’s co workers, and our home health care nurses helped us immensely.
However, after a couple of years, I realized that my husband and I needed to add more substantially to our monthly income or we could go broke.
The dilemma I faced was that my thin mask of stability slipped easily, especially once our son died in 2001.
Somewhere between our son’s decline and ultimate death, I suffered something akin to a nervous breakdown. Oftentimes I lost control of my emotions. While both in personal and business situations, I could see in my mind what I wanted to say, my words spilled out in a confused jumble. I became easily frustrated and overwhelmed.
My daughter, now seven, became my self appointed protector and watched anxiously for times that I would start sobbing. And she did her best to comfort me. I remember her holding me countless times and insisting, “It’s going to be okay, Mommy.”
But my grief was disabling, and I could not foresee any relief.
We had moved to Florida to pursue hyperbaric oxygen therapy. And for the next couple of years, I willed myself out of bed and made myself accomplish one overwhelming task a day besides getting out of bed. Sometimes I made a business call. Other times I attended one of my daughter’s school functions.
I felt empty and numb, drained of all hope and motivation. I envisioned what future I had left as bleak and full of despair. But I forced myself forward for my daughter, now nine, and my younger son, who was two.
Given my condition, I could not imagine any employer who would want me. So, I prayed about what to do.
Within a month, a woman called me to place an order from my catalog. She explained that she still liked some of the products, but had joined another company that offered ongoing training and unlimited possibilities for advancement. I was so impressed by the marketing plan at her company that I signed up even before I had tried the products. Those who knew me were astonished by my decision.
A close male friend from college confided that many years ago when we had stayed overnight with him and his wife on our way to bury my mother in Minnesota, my father had taken him aside and pleaded with him to get me to start dressing more feminine so I would attract a husband.
My skin care was soap and water. I never wore make up. My mother had raised me to believe that make up just clogged our pores.
Otherwise, because I was depressed, when my hair felt too long, I chopped off tufts at a time with scissors and without using a mirror. I had what my husband affectionately called the “melon scoop” look.
The night I attended my first company meeting and tried the products alongside several guests, I felt intimidated by the other women. All of them applied make up masterfully.
The sales woman showing our group how to use our products confessed to me a year later that I had contributed significantly to what felt to her like her most disastrous class ever.
I had made her job tortuous by surviving an uncomfortable situation the best way I knew how. Throughout her class, I had poked fun at the beauty process. Humor aside, I felt completely inept as I attempted to apply three different shades of eye shadow.
Yet month after month I returned to the weekly meetings and sat towards the back in sloppy shorts, with my melon scoop haircut and my arms folded across my chest in defiance.
There was something contagious about those women that kept drawing me back when they clapped and whooped like children over meeting sales challenges and earning prizes.
Gradually I found myself inspired to make changes. One week I wore a dress. A couple of months later, I got my hair cut professionally. And they praised me for every effort I made to improve. Soon I was taking on sales challenges and experiencing how success always shows up in some form just when I want to give up.
I joined our company to make money and have stayed because of the ladies, who became my girlfriends. Our founder’s motto is that we can have anything we want as long as we are willing to pay the price, and the primary cost for success is the willingness to grow personally.
Today, I marvel at the women I know, so much like those I once labeled as bubble brains, when in reality I was secretly just intimidated. I have discovered women who wear make up are neither all bubble heads nor hiding anything. In fact, I have found that make up is another way to transform into anyone I want to become and is symbolic of my transformation into someone who no longer apologizes for myself as much, criticizes and pokes fun at myself quite as mercilessly, allows negative thinking, or worries like I did once about looks and remarks of others.
Besides, unless I allow them, no one can hurt me or in any way change who I am.
While the more goal of more serious, business minded beauty consultants in our company is to grow into successful corporate leaders with their own thriving branches in our company, I have rediscovered my childhood dream about becoming a successful writer.
I have kept my status as a beauty consultant to take advantage of discounts, but even more so to qualify for participation in the annual woman’s retreat in Florida on the Suwannee river and opportunity to get together with my Florida girlfriends to practice being positive and renew the urgency in making my dreams materialize.
Watching “Miss Congeniality” is like an inside joke between me, my husband, two kids, and close friends. We all laugh and cry, as we recount my own “before” and “after” version of the story.
And every time I apply make up, the saying I learned while learning how to cope without alcohol comes to mind. “Fake it until you make it.”
I cannot imagine the day I will feel skilled at applying make up, comfortable in dress clothes, or receiving applause while center stage.
And there are plenty of times I look in the mirror, I still get discouraged by what I see as slow progress. Perhaps, I will always have times of getting incredibly discouraged and frustrated by my limitations in dealing with other people and will always have to ask myself whether or not what I am feeling is based on what actually happened or if my interpretation is distorted.
I feel humiliated having to do reality checks to find out whether or not looks and remarks I have taken to heart and that have cost me sleep are intended to be as degrading and hurtful as they feel.
Maybe I will always compare myself against others, and remain forever in search of normal, while feeling like an alien.
But I will never crawl under a rock and give up.
I will remind myself of all that I have endured, how far I have come, and that my best therapist compared me to a war veteran, returning home with survival scars before I had even begun to tackle nearly insurmountable challenges of losing our son and the lives we wanted to have.
And invariably, I flash on my now sixteen year old daughter, who still remarks often enough, “Mom, you’re looking so good! You’ve changed so much! I’m so proud of you.”


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